Earlier this week, a cold front blew in. And along with it, a change in perspective.
I sat on my front porch and mentally ran through my to-do list. It was a sunny February afternoon, and we’d been enjoying a stretch of warmth in our Colorado winter. Today there was a chill in the air, that sense that tomorrow would bring snow and puffy coats and insulated boots. My friend pulled up to the house and hopped out for a walk.
After an exchange of genuine smiles and quick hugs, we set out at a brisk pace. As we pounded the pavement, our minds and topics jumped from kids to motherhood to meaningful work. Fortunate to live in a town with easy access to open space, we crossed a four-lane road to leave neighborhoods behind for nature.
We made our way up the steep path, our bodies and thoughts still focused on exercise and everyday life. With the crunch of gravel and dirt underfoot, our legs and lips slowed down and the dialogue shifted to empathy and resilience.
At the crest of the hill, a sudden gust of cold wind stopped us in our tracks. I paused and shook sharp rocks from my shoe. The gap between motion and conversation begin to fill with the rising crescendo of bird song. How had I not noticed it before?
My friend and I stood silent, side by side. Perched on high ground, we gazed out over the valley of native brush and grasses. Felt the crisp air meet the skin on our faces and hands. Listened to hundreds of feathered beings belt out in joyful chorus. Awe swept through me. In a moment, my mind, body, and day transformed for the better.
Awe is a powerful resource for personal change and growth. And it isn’t only experienced in dramatic events…it can be part of daily life.
New research suggests that being in touch with awe has tremendous benefits for our health and wellbeing. It calms down our nervous systems and releases oxytocin, the “love” hormone that promotes trust and bonding. It reduces inflammation and makes us stronger.
Psychologist Dacher Keltner describes awe as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world.”
In his book Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, he writes that awe is essential to our wellbeing just like joy, contentment, and love. In his research, he found that awe activates the vagus nerve—the main component of our “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system—to improve digestion, slow our heart rate, deepen breathing, and support healing. Awe also has mental health benefits—it quiets negative self-talk, gets us out of our own heads, and gives us perspective of our place in the greater context of our communities and world.
Try an Awe Walk this week for a dose of happiness, hope, and healing. Head outside—even for 10 or 15 minutes—and look at the world around you through fresh, childlike eyes (a.k.a., what Buddhists call “beginners mind”). Consciously watch for small wonders in details, moments, and vistas. Notice the power of awe permeating your mind, body, heart, and life.